What to Eat, What to Drink, and What to Leave for Poison

By Camille T. Dungy
I.   
Only now, in spring, can the place be named:   
tulip poplar, daffodil, crab apple,   
dogwood, budding pink-green, white-green, yellow   
on my knowing.   All winter I was lost.   
Fall, I found myself here, with no texture   
my fingers know.   Then, worse, the white longing   
that downed us deep three months.   No flower heat.   
That was winter.   But now, in spring, the buds   
flock our trees.   Ten million exquisite buds,   
tiny and loud, flaring their petalled wings,   
bellowing from ashen branches vibrant   
keys, the chords of spring’s triumph: fisted heart,   
dogwood; grail, poplar; wine spray, crab apple.   
The song is drink, is color.   Come.   Now.   Taste.

II.   
The song is drink, is color.   Come now, taste   
what the world has to offer.   When you eat   
you will know that music comes in guises—   
bold of crepe myrtle, sweet of daffodil—   
beyond sound, guises they never told you   
could be true.   And they aren’t.   Except they are   
so real now, this spring, you know them, taste them.   
Green as kale, the songs of spring, bright as wine,   
the music.   Faces of this season grin   
with clobbering wantonness—see the smiles   
open on each branch?—until you, too, smile.   
Wide carnival of color, carnival   
of scent.   We’re all lurching down streets, drunk now   
from the poplar’s grail.   Wine spray: crab apple.

III.   
From the poplar’s grail, wine spray.   Crab apple   
brightens jealously to compete.   But by   
the crab apple’s deep stain, the tulip tree   
learns modesty.   Only blush, poplar learns,   
lightly.   Never burn such a dark-hued fire   
to the core.   Tulip poplar wants herself   
light under leaf, never, like crab apple,   
heavy under tart fruit.   Never laden.   
So the poplar pours just a hint of wine   
in her cup, while the crab apple, wild one,   
acts as if her body were a fountain.   
She would pour wine onto you, just let her.   
Shameless, she plants herself, and delivers,   
down anyone’s street, bright invitations.

IV.   
Down anyone’s street-bright invitations.   
Suck ‘em.   Swallow ‘em.   Eat them whole.   That’s right,   
be greedy about it.   The brightness calls   
and you follow because you want to taste,   
because you want to be welcomed inside   
the code of that color: red for thirst; green   
for hunger; pink, a kiss; and white, stain me   
now.   Soil me with touching.   Is that right?   
No?   That’s not, you say, what you meant.   Not what   
you meant at all?   Pardon.   Excuse me, please.   
Your hand was reaching, tugging at this shirt   
of flowers and I thought, I guess I thought   
you were hungry for something beautiful.   
Come now.   The brightness here might fill you up.

V.   
Come.   Now the brightness here might fill you up,   
but tomorrow?   Who can know what the next   
day will bring.   It is like that, here, in spring.   
Four days ago, the dogwood was a fist   
in protest.   Now look.   Even she unfurls   
to the pleasure of the season.   Don’t be   
ashamed of yourself.   Don’t be.    This happens   
to us all.   We have thrown back the blanket.   
We’re naked and we’ve grown to love ourselves.   
I tell you, do not be ashamed.   Who is   
more wanton than the dancing crepe myrtle?   
Is she ashamed?   Why, even the dogwood,   
that righteous tree of God’s, is full of lust   
exploding into brightness every spring.

VI.   
Exploding into brightness every spring,   
I draw you close.   I wonder, do you know   
how long I’ve wanted to be here?   Each year   
you grasp me, lift me, carry me inside.   
Glee is the body of the daffodil   
reaching tubed fingers through the day, feeling   
her own trumpeted passion choiring air   
with hot, colored song.   This is a texture   
I love.   This is life.   And, too, you love me,   
inhale my whole being every spring.   Gone   
winter, heavy clod whose icy body   
fell into my bed.   I must leave you, but   
I’ll wait through heat, fall, freeze to hear you cry:   
Daffodils are up.   My God, what beauty!

VII.   
Daffodils are up, my God!   What beauty   
concerted down on us last night.   And if   
I sleep again, I’ll wake to a louder   
blossoming, the symphony smashing down   
hothouse walls, and into the world: music.   
Something like the birds’ return, each morning’s   
crescendo rising toward its brightest pitch,   
colors unfurling, petals alluring.   
The song, the color, the rising ecstasy   
of spring.   My God.   This beauty.   This, this   
is what I’ve hoped for.   All my life is here   
in the unnamed core—dogwood, daffodil,   
tulip poplar, crab apple, crepe myrtle—   
only now, in spring, can the place be named.

Camille Dungy, "What to Eat, What to Drink, and What to Leave for Poison" from What to Eat, What to Drink, What to Leave for Poison. Copyright 2006 Camille Dungy. Reprinted by permission of Red Hen Press.

Source: What to Eat What to Drink What to Leave for Poison (Red Hen Press, 2006)

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Poet Camille T. Dungy

POET’S REGION U.S., Western

Subjects Nature, Spring, Relationships, Love, Trees & Flowers, Romantic Love, Desire

Poetic Terms Sonnet, Series/Sequence

 Camille T. Dungy

Biography

Poet and editor Camille T. Dungy was born in Denver but moved often as her father, an academic physician, taught at many different medical schools across the country. She received a BA from Stanford University and an MFA from the University of North Carolina, Greensboro.
 
Dungy’s full-length poetry publications include Suck on the Marrow (2010) and the sonnet collection What to Eat, What to Drink, What to Leave for Poison . . .

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SUBJECT Nature, Spring, Relationships, Love, Trees & Flowers, Romantic Love, Desire

POET’S REGION U.S., Western

Poetic Terms Sonnet, Series/Sequence

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